It seems to happen almost every NFL season. Teams come off a promising year building the hopes of a fan base only to crush those hopes like Cousin Eddie crushes beer cans against the plate in his head (pre Christmas Vacation when it was replaced with a plastic one because of Catherine’s damn microwave). I did some digging over the past 20 years and found some of the most epic season to season collapses.
Houston Texans 2012 -2013
The 2012 Houston Texans had quite a season. In their 11th season of existence head coach, Gary Kubiak, led them to a 12-4 record and an AFC South title. After knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals in their first playoff game they were overwhelmed by the New England Patriots, 41-28, but there was hope for the 2013 season. Hopes stayed high as the team jumped out to a 2-0 record with close wins over the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. Playoff ticket operators were already standing by. It wouldn’t take long before playoff ticket operators were standing on the unemployment line. In an epic collapse, the Texans would lose their next 14 games in a row. It was so bad that fans probably held victory parties during the team’s bye week. Nothing went right. Star running back, Arian Foster, would go on the IR with a lumbar injury in November. Matt Schaub would be benched halfway through the season for Case Keenum, who would lead the team to a 0-8 record. Gary Kubiak was fired with three games left and Wade Phillips finished the season. A team that finished in the top ten for points for and against in 2012 was bottom five in both categories for 2013. Everything truly is bigger in Texas and this collapse proved it.
Atlanta Falcons 2012 - 2013
According to the movie, 2012 was supposed to be the end of days for Earth. For Falcons fans, they may have wished it was true. Mike Smith led the 2012 Falcons to a 13-3 regular season record with a top seven scoring offense and a top five scoring defense. After a 30-28 win in the divisional round, they lost to the 49ers in the NFC title game, blowing a 10-point halftime lead, but it’s not like blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl, right? The team lost four of its first six games. They’d drop 12 games total, eight by a touchdown or less. The offense ranked 20th in points scored and never quite got its ground game going with Steven Jackson being banged up. The defense was even worse allowing almost 28 points per game. In short, pro football in Atlanta for 2013 was Falcon awful.
Carolina Panthers 2015 - 2016
The 2015 Carolina Panthers were a juggernaut. Led by head coach, “Riverboat” Ron Rivera, and fifth-year quarterback, Cam Newton, they blew through their schedule with a 15-1 record and the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. They knocked off the Seahawks then the Arizona Cardinals on the way to the Super Bowl. It was there where a brutal Broncos defense shut down the Panthers offense, taking a 24-10 win and leading to a Cam Newton post-game pout more memorable than his effort to recover a fumble. The 2016 season began the way the 2015 one ended, with a Panthers loss to the Broncos. A bounce back the following week against the 49ers gave them hope but losses in the next four games prior to the bye had Panthers faithful watching more for what Cam would be wearing in the postgame pressers than the actual games. In the end the team would finish 6-10, Cam would have a season more lackluster than some of the awful getups he’d wear, and Riverboat Ron’s season would come up snake eyes.
Denver Broncos & Atlanta Falcons 1998 - 1999
This double shot of penthouse to outhouse brought to you by the Super Bowl XXXIII participants. The 1998 Atlanta Falcons had a great 1998 season. Dan Reeves coached his team to a 14-2 record, including wins in the team’s final nine games, including one started by the ever forgettable, Tony Graziani (in actuality Steve DeBerg relieved him and led the team to victory but the NFL is weird about who gets credited for wins). The Falcons would take the 49ers down in the divisional round setting up an NFC title game tilt with the Minnesota Vikings who went 15-1 on the season. The Falcons had the NFC title game gift-wrapped for them by Dennis Green (God rest his soul), coming back from 13 points down near the end of the first half as well as benefitting from the only missed kick Gary Anderson would have on the entire season to win 30-27 in overtime, advancing to the Super Bowl. Over in the AFC the Denver Broncos were bucking awesome. They had the number two scoring offense in football thanks to the arm of John Elway and a 2,000 yard, 21 rushing TD season from Terrell Davis. They won their first 13 games of the season before a two-game losing streak near the end. The team would finish the regular season at 14-2 and then knocked off AFC East teams, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets punching their ticket to Pro Player Stadium and the Super Bowl, where they would take home the Lombardi Trophy, 34-19. Surely these two teams would be back in 1999 battling for a return trip to the Super Bowl, right? Guess again, my friends. The Falcons, who incidentally are on this list twice for epic collapses, wouldn’t win their first game until October 10th. In all they’d win just five games, including their final two after their season’s fate had been long decided. Chris Chandler, who had been solid a season earlier, had a very pedestrian season with a 56.7% completion percentage and only 16 TD passes against 11 interceptions. Star running back, Jamal Anderson, would tear his ACL in a week two loss to the Cowboys and the running game would never be the same (when Ken Oxendine is your top running back, you know it’s bad). The Broncos didn’t fare much better. Much like with the Falcons, the Broncos were dealt a crushing blow when Terrell Davis went down with a season-ending knee injury in their fourth game. With John Elway now retired and preparing for an office job, Brian Griese was handed the reins at quarterback. His father, Bob, may have been a better choice. The team would go 6-10 on the season with seven being by a touchdown or less. Don’t tell me Elway couldn’t have won a few of those.
There you have it. Five teams that went from eating prime rib to convenient store roller hot dogs…not that there’s anything wrong with that (if it’s 3 AM and you’re a 12-pack of Busch beer in).
Until next time, friends, don’t cut your lip on the edge of your beer can, wash that color rush jersey separate from your whites, and don’t let Bill Reid help you pick your fantasy team.
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Yours in beer and football.
Mike Zimmer's Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan from Pennsylvania and is a #TeamBlitzed All Pro. You can follow him on Twitter.